Ahmed Towsif is an entrepreneur based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and a first-time volunteer with ACDI/VOCA. We talked to Ahmed about his assignment supporting the USAID Zambia Enterprise Development and Growth Enhanced Activity, a five-year activity implemented by ACDI/VOCA and funded by USAID aimed at creating jobs and increasing the profitability of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Read our Q&A with Ahmed below and learn more about how to volunteer with ACDI/VOCA.
Why Did You Decide to Volunteer with ACDI/VOCA?
I was doing my master’s degree in management in innovation and entrepreneurship at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in Canada and saw an opportunity on our school’s portal to work with a few SMEs in Zambia to help them develop their businesses. The perfect opportunity to implement my academic learnings into practice. At the same time, the best opportunity for me to make some impact in people’s lives.
I wanted to integrate the design thinking and lean startup approach when I was working with the SMEs. I believe any new business needs to have a human-centric design in their product development to make their business successful. You assess what are the pain points of your customers and develop a product with their needs in mind, develop a minimum viable product, take feedback from your customers, and build a final product that people are ready to pay for. There is no business if people are not ready to pay for your product or solution.
What Was it Like Working with Entrepreneurs in Zambia?
While working for the USAID Zambia Enterprise Development and Growth Enhanced Activity, I had the opportunity to work with three SMEs to help them develop their businesses and assess if they were investment ready. Two businesses were recent businesses with, at most, three years of operations, while another was 13 years into operation. I tried to understand if they had any commonality driving their success, and the one thing I could find was that they all had a very dynamic team led by women and youth.
Tell Us More About Your Experience and the Entrepreneurs You Helped Support.
Yambazi, a young, enthusiastic entrepreneur, wants to create an online sourcing platform for poultry and meat to digitally transform the industry and cause a market disruption. Cecilia, a dynamic, young lady, wants to transform her locality by promoting education among local families. She wants to create a source of income for the people so that they can send their children to school. A lady with a vision. She also employs mostly women and youth in her company.
Another entrepreneur, Alamu, who leads a family-run business, is already thinking about expanding overseas to countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Expanding beyond the borders. The SMEs I have worked with have great potential for the future, particularly because they understand who their customers are and their pain points. Working alongside the ACDI/VOCA team, I developed my own business acumen and my analytical strengths.